WILTSHIRE Council has defended its decision to hold planning meetings during the day instead of in the evenings.

All future Wiltshire Council planning meetings will start at 3pm instead of 6pm.

Querying the changes at County Hall on Tuesday, Cllr Brian Dalton (Lib, Harnham) said the meetings were very important for the public to "air their voice on planning issues which effect their lives".

"Changing the time to when many people (and councillors!) are still at work will have a detrimental effect on public attendance," he wrote in a question to the council.

"To announce it during an election is somewhat devious. Perhaps if agendas were manageable and 18 meetings not cancelled during the past four years, then meetings would end at a reasonable time."

But the councillor in charge of planning, Toby Sturgis (Con, Brinkworth), said all the chairmen of the county's planning committees had accepted this approach as a "reasonable way forward."

He said the system had worked well in the northern and western areas and for strategic planning meetings at County Hall.

It was "quite clear" that public attendance had improved when meetings started at 3pm, and residents had welcomed the change, he said.

"People did not feel like sitting in the council chamber at 10 or 11 o'clock at night."

Cllr Sturgis said it cost the council more money to pay senior officers to work late into the evenings.

But Cllr Dalton said: "How can a planning committee serve its residents when those residents may be picking up their children at 3pm or perhaps working until 5pm?"

Chris Devine (Ind, Winterslow) said: "This is an unusual meeting straight after an election.

"Those of us who have just been re-elected and those who have just got in were unable to put in any motions to this meeting, and therefore as this topic under discussion is extremely relevant to the democratic nature of planning, may I suggest that we open this up to debate in the interests of democracy?"

Council chairman Allison Bucknell (Con, Lyneham) said: "You can suggest it, councillor, but it's not going to happen."

Chairman of the southern area planning committee Fred Westmoreland said he was happy to return to the traditional meeting time that had been used before Wiltshire Council was created.

He said it was better to hold the meetings when committee members were alert rather than in the evenings when "everyone is getting tired".